CRIMINALS CANNOT BE FORGIVEN Murderers are swaggering out in broad daylight. The culture of impunity has seeped, deep, into Nepali soil. There is no rule of law. The legal system is in tatters. Unfortunately, these common gripes among Nepalis are, by and large, justified; although we do tend to resort to hyperbole while discussing our political system. It is thus commonly held that the level of impunity criminals in Nepal enjoy is unmatched. Perhaps.
Earlier this year, the outgoing governor of the American state of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, caused uproar when he exercised his state-given right to pardon 200-odd prisoners, that included 14 convicted killers. Countless trials and retrials later, the fate of many of these prisoners hangs in the balance. India has been grappling with its own constitutional provisions with government lawyers banging their heads together on whether the rarely evoked capital punishment clause is applicable to terrorists. And since the Indian president can theoretically pardon criminals, does the president’s ambit encompass terrorists and hardened criminals?
Like his Indian counterpart, Nepali president, as the head of the state, can grant amnesty to criminals on the advice of council of ministers. One assumes Dr Ram Baran Yadav, if it were up to him, wouldn’t touch the ever-fattening files of murderers with a barge pole. But the Bhattarai government, once again, could put him in a difficult spot after it withdrew hundreds of criminal cases, including those concerning convicted killers and abductees. If the past is any guide, a petition might soon be filed with the Supreme Court to stay the latest cabinet directive. In that case, the president might once again be asked to ‘rubber-stamp’ the government move once it clears the legal system.
The latest round of withdrawal of criminal cases apparently has a tacit backing of other major parties, including CPN-UML and the Madhesi block in the current coalition. It was, after all, Jhalanath Khanal who forwarded many of the cases in the current cache. The Madhesi parties, for their part, want to give clean chit to those involved in criminal activities in Tarai both during and after the Madhesi Uprising. Nepali Congress too wants to bargain the release of some criminals under its watch as quid pro quo.
We are clear on this. Even in the past, we have been critical of the Bhattarai government’s bid to push through amnesty for its leaders like Bal Krishna Dhungel and Prabhu Shah, both implicated in murders. Though some imperatives of coalition politics can be entertained, the prime minister (and his cabinet) cannot, under any circumstances, justify pardon for hardcore criminals. We believe it is also a damning evidence of withering democratic credentials of the three of the other big political forces in the country to be complicit in such an undemocratic exercise.
The legal system is alive and kicking in Mississippi: The state Attorney General was quick to step in and suspend the governor’s mass pardon. Nepali courts have likewise been remarkably consistent in slapping down amnesty pleas for convicted criminals. But Nepal’s elected leadership, much like Mississippi’s, seems far from committed in doing its part to maintain rule of law under its jurisdiction